COVID-19 Maker Challenge delivers solutions for Veterans, VA staff and America

Designing solutions to the immediate challenges facing health care community


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Adversity drives innovation. That has certainly been the case this year due to the historic COVID-19 pandemic. That is why the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) collaborated with Veteran non-profit Challenge America on a series of five COVID-19 Maker Challenge events that brought innovators from across the country together for make-a-thons to develop solutions to the most pressing problems brought on by the pandemic.

The five challenges each focused on problems facing specific subsets of the essential health care workforce during the pandemic: first responders, environmental management services, nursing home/assisted living, caregivers and disaster relief.

After the event, the challenge teams continued their work with the help of many VA collaborators, through what is now the VHA Innovators Network (iNET) Greenhouse initiative.

Here is the latest on a few of those collaborations.

Flexi-Band

Team Breathable Mask designed a unique mask strap called the Flexi-Band to help patients on home oxygen wear a mask comfortably. The design accommodates an oxygen cannula while wearing a face mask and eliminates ear pressure. The prototype was the user experience winner at the Caregiver COVID-19 Maker Challenge.

Team Breathable Mask and iNET connected to 3D print and test prototypes of the Flexi-Band. The strap was printed by Bill Corcuera at the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System.

A prototype of the Flexi-Band was user-tested with Veterans at North Florida/South Georgia VA Healthcare System, Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, North Texas VA Health Care System, and the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA. The team is now collating information on the first prototype, and the next strap iteration is underway.

Tessellation Sanitation Station

Team HermTac earned top marks as the winner of the iEX Design Award for their Tessellation Sanitization Stations. This innovative solution uses concentrated UVC lighting and tessellated panels for a unique sanitization opportunity.

After Team HermTac worked with teammates at the North Texas Health Care System on the initial prototype, the team entered the greenhouse initiative. Prototypes for the product were created with the VA Minneapolis Adaptive Design and Engineering Program.

The sanitization prototypes will be tested at the Charles George VAMC and James A. Haley Veterans Hospital to clean the virtual reality hardware quickly between patient sessions.

Portable Parallel Bars

Team Portable PT worked to confront the challenges long-term care facilities face when they require a 14-day quarantine for all seniors who take a COVID-19 test as well as new arrivals. During this quarantine, seniors do not have access to the equipment they need for physical therapy.

The team developed a portable parallel bar prototype that can be easily moved to different rooms, allowing nursing home residents who are in isolation to continue with their physical therapy.

Through the Greenhouse initiative, Team Portable PT and VA subject matter experts, occupational therapists, and physical therapists (PT) at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VAMC reviewed multiple design iterations. The input from the VA team helped Team Portable PT modify their design, and the team is now in the process of securing funding to create a functional prototype.

More to come

These innovations will not just impact care provided during COVID-19. Most will be applicable to post-pandemic life as well. With so much more to come, stay tuned to the outcomes from future VHA IE make-a-thon events and learn more about the opportunity to grow with VA via the Greenhouse initiative.

Author

Matthew Razak

Matthew Razak supports VA as a contractor with Atlas Research, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm providing strategic advisory and applied research services to federal health and social service agencies. Matt has been working with VA for the past six years supporting social media and communication efforts.

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